Utility computing is still one of those terms that have yet to be definitively defined. Ask a room full of IT professionals what it means to them, and I guarantee youll get at least three or four significantly different responses, ranging from a technique to build high-speed computational clusters with low-cost hardware to an easy way to design the hardware for a Web site front end. Other than the fact that utility computing revolves around the ability to interchange inexpensive computers as components in the system, there is still a lack of definition in the market.
This lack of definition isnt all that unusual. As the market for utility computing continues to grow, it will, to a certain degree, define itself. In my last column, I talked about Microsofts approach to defining a specific segment of the utility computing market as “high-performance computing.”
With a market as broad as the potential utility computing market, it is likely that we will continue to see vendors split into two camps: those that want to define the market along their own product lines, and those who band together to chant the “open standards” mantra. Both camps will have their adherents among consumers, and it is likely that both will also grow and develop within the general utility computing marketplace.
Along with dedicated vendor marketing we will also see the rise of industry groups dedicated to defining the utility computing market and that will attempt to provide some direction and collaboration between otherwise disparate players in the utility computing space. One such group is the Enterprise Grid Alliance, which, in its own words, is a consortium formed to develop enterprise grid solutions and accelerate the deployment of grid computing in the enterprise. Current membership includes what could be described as the usual suspect: vendors such as EMC, Sun Microsystems, HP, Intel and Cisco. But unlike many industry/vendor organizations, EGA is also reaching out to the end-user community, offering a mechanism by which the average corporate user can sign up to be kept in the loop as to the organizations activities.
This effort is just getting started (and links to the end-user community can be found on the Web site) and is, in my opinion, an excellent idea. There is a tendency for these organizations to devolve into support for very narrow standards as defined by the vendor members, so additional information and feedback from an active user community can help keep attention focused on broader standards than those currently offered by participating vendors. The more players involved in a project like the EGA, the greater the ability to avoid tunnel vision and keep all the participants aware that they need to play well with others to be successful.
Initially, the EGA has started up five working groups to begin the standards building process:
- The Reference Model working group is developing a taxonomy for grid computing that they hope will eventually be used as the baseline for defining the grid computing model.
- The Component Provisioning working group is tasked with developing open standards for application provision in grid computing models.
- The Data Provisioning working group has a similar charge: to develop open standards for data and database provisioning plus the requirement to evaluate existing data standards and determine how they will fit in the grid computing model.
- The Utility Accounting working group gets the least glamorous, but possibly most important task: to determine a standardized way to bill for grid usage. They are evaluating existing models for billing and their applicability to the grid model (this group could be a big part of the reason that Citrix is involved with the EGA).
- Last, the Grid Security working group is tasked with determining potential security problems that the introduction of grid computing can bring to an organization and with determining how existing security techniques and technologies can be applied to these potential problems.
Whether or not groups like the EGA will be successful has yet to be seen, but at least this particular group has made the commitment to keep the user community involved in the process. If you are planning on making use of utility computing in your enterprise, it should be worth the few minutes it will take to sign up for their user community and, at the very least, read their e-mail newsletter.
Check out eWEEK.coms Utility Computing Center for the latest utility computing news, reviews and analysis.